It was the Bartle Bogle Hegarty deal that did it for me. The
initial speculation seriously underestimated the price Leo Burnett paid
(closer to pounds 30 million for a 49 per cent stake!). This confirms my
impression that there’s something dangerously fin de siecle about the
business at the moment. No pun intended, it being the start of 1998, but
the kind of money being sloshed about last year on anything from houses
in central London and dinners at Le Gavroche to Simons Palmer and
Manning Gottlieb Media can only call to mind the pre-crash mid-80s.
The question is not if, but when will the next crash come and is the
advertising industry better prepared to deal with it than the last time?
If one assesses the evidence of the IPA’s population censuses over the
past 25 years then one might assume a safe ’no’.
The graph perfectly mirrors the UK economy’s highs and lows. Adland
religiously staffs up for booms and lays off in recession. So what?
Other industries do too. But this last recession led to a savage cutback
that has done lasting damage to the standing and self-confidence of the
business. It adds to the sense of a lack of professionalism, and the
sheer weight of those cuts allowed for a feeling that the industry had
been carrying excess baggage.
Next time round the redundancies cannot be as savage. Not all the jobs
returned, partly because a layer of middle management has been deemed
unsustainable, partly because ever tighter margins mean many agencies
exist on an extremely pared-down basis as it is.
At least that’s the line from many agency bosses. And I’m sure that’s
how it may appear to staff within agencies themselves. But it’s not how
it looks to the outside world at all. Outside adland the process of
creating advertising is perceived to be unnecessarily lengthy and, by
Some of the blame for this can be laid on clients, largely because of
the disempowerment of so many of them. Waiting for the proposed idea to
work its way up the client structure and for approval to work its way
back down again contributes to man hours wasted in a way that only the
current research process matches.
But agencies cannot lay the whole blame at the client’s door. The
briefing procedure, laborious creative development (particularly when
clients are denied access to creatives) and most of the production and
interminable post-production process may provide comfort blankets, but
they are killing the spontaneity of the work and the respect of the
greater business community for what adland does. Clients will tolerate
it less and less, likewise the salaries in, and size of, the creative
departments. Only if these core problems are addressed will a bloodbath
be averted in the next recession. Um, happy new year.